Kevin O'Toole/LONDON

UNITED AIRLINES (UAL) chairman Gerald Greenwald has launched one of the most scathing attacks yet on the system of bilateral air agreements, including among his main targets the slow progress being made on UK-US liberalisation.

"What we have now is a kind of controlled chaos, an industry impasse in which no one is comfortable with the system as it is, but no one can make the move to the more competitive system we need," he said, speaking in London on 19 September, at a meeting of the Aviation Club of Great Britain.

Greenwald warns that the existing system, described as a "Frankenstein" monster hastily stitched together after the Second World War, is "slowly strangling" the world airline industry and jeopardising its development.

He cites the US-UK Bermuda II agreement of 1977 as the low point in a system which was already bad. He concedes that the latest mini-deal between the US and UK Governments, which granted UAL long-awaited rights to serve the London Heathrow-Chicago route, was a small step forward, but he says that the pace towards liberalisation is "agonisingly slow".

He urges the two governments to resume talks on the next phase of the agreement over access to Heathrow. The latest round of negotiations ended without agreement, with no further negotiations scheduled.

While acknowledging that internal US "squabbles" have in part been responsible for the lack of progress, he also warns that the UK Government is "...listening too much, to the protectionist views of industry".

He admits that issues of ownership and cabotage, will have to be addressed on the US side, but believes that the UK position remains unclear.

"My feeling is that British Airways doesn't know yet what it wants to prove with regard to an agreement with the USA, so the UK Government has decided to move at a snail's pace until a time when they are ready," he says.

Greenwald adds that United does have plans to use new freedoms to enter regional UK airports such as Manchester and Birmingham. "It is just a question of time," he says, but he categorically rules out any interest in Stansted.

Elsewhere in Europe, Greenwald says that United will push for US anti-trust immunity to help cement its partnership with Lufthansa, although he believes that the US Government will back such deals only in the context of a move to broader open-skies agreements. Sources within Germany believe that the basis for such a deal could soon be put into place.

Greenwald also singles out Japan for criticism in its increasingly stormy negotiations over a new US bilateral. "Japan's ministry of transportation seems fixated on a protectionist path, marching in one direction while the rest of the world moves in another," he says, adding that United is prepared to give Japan a "breathing space" to get its house in order provided that the ultimate goal is a more "market-driven regime".

Source: Flight International